Dec. 4, 2013
By Geoff Thurner
FRESNO, Calif. - For most softball collegiate fans, today is barely two months away from the first pitch of the collegiate softball season, but for Fresno State head coach Trisha Ford and her team it's the start of their fourth month of practice.
During the fall slate, the `Dogs have played seven exhibition games against a host of area teams balanced by a busy, three-month practice schedule.
"I've been excited about our team's progress and performance this semester," Ford said. "Now that everyone has had a full year together, they better understand our system and our expectations. Our players are stronger, faster, and in better shape than ever."
Returning for her second season at the helm, Ford guided the `Dogs to a 30-24 overall mark in 2013 and a second-place finish in the MW with an 11-7 mark.
The future looks even brighter in 2013-14, as the squad returns all four All-MW picks from last year in senior infielder Vonnie Martin, junior outfielder Brenna Moss and sophomore pitcher Jill Compton and catcher Paige Gumz.
"Our offense showed improvement again this fall," Ford said. "We have a lot of returning talent, and several newcomers who swing the bat well, too. Our pitchers continue to mature and are learning how to be more successful in a range of situations. I also like our team speed because we always want to put pressure on opposing defenses."
Several `Dogs were also easy to spot on the NCAA charts last spring, as Moss led the nation in triples per game (0.18 average) and stood 15th in stolen bases (0.67 p/g) and 72nd in the toughest to strike out category (1:16.3 at-bats).
Two others hitters stood top 100 - junior infielder Maria Sio (sacrifice hits, fourth, 0.35 p/g) and outfielder Michelle Solomon (triples, 95th, 3) - as well as a pair of sophomore pitchers Compton (shutouts, 35th, 7) and Hannah Harris (walks, 92nd, 1.81 p/7 innings).
The squad's key loss via graduation from last year was former All-MW outfielder Diane Runge, while it welcomed seven freshmen - infielders Niki Kaleialii and Liza Liddell-Ledesma, and outfielders Melissa Gilbert, Maria Jimenez, Alanna Layton, Christina Rodriguez and Kierra Willis.
Another trademark of a Ford-led squad is an active presence in the community, and the team has already made appearances this fall at the Central Valley Walk to Defeat ALS and Poverello House in Fresno for those in need of food, warmth and compassion.
"We always emphasize how important family is, so the ALS Walk was a fantastic opportunity for us to support a team member," Ford said. "Taylor (Green) and her father's fight against the disease helps our players see the bigger picture about life. Helping out at the Poverello House is also a moving experience, especially working with mothers, teens and kids."
With the current focus now more on academics, and individual practice and conditioning, Fresno State has 1 1/2 weeks of classes left this semester before finals week.
After a winter break, classes resume on January 16, less than a month before the team's 2014 season opener vs. returning Super Regional advancer Oregon on Friday, February 7 in the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz.
The following week, the `Dogs host their first of two home tournaments - the Fresno State Kick-off (Friday-Sunday, February 14-16).
The team then travels to three other early tournaments - the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic in Palm Springs (Feb. 21-23), San Diego State Classic (Feb. 28-March 2) and Judi Garman Classic at Fullerton (March 6-9).
The `Dogs other home tournament - the Fresno State Classic - is its biggest and features seven teams and 17 games spread over four days (Thursday-Sunday, March 13-16).
"We're excited to get to the spring season," Ford said. "Our chemistry is great, and I've been excited about our fall practice. I like that we have had a lot of competition because that will only make us better. Our players have been pushing each other to a new level, and I know our fans can't wait for another great season at Bulldog Diamond."
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